Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dispatches from the Bar

I've been at the hipster haven known as Woodruff's the last couple of nights for Mittenfest VI and I thought I'd report on two items of amusement:

1. Silly facial hair and kids who don't dance abound at this place. And in this land of vans and skinny jeans, I heard one guy actually say to his friends, "Don't you see him over there? He's the guy in plaid." It was just too much like trying to find somebody at a Dead show in a tie-dye to not get a good giggle out of it.

2. Then last night, I noticed that the guy holding up the wall next to Biscodo was not looking too hot, even though he continued to pull on his PBR. I couldn't tell if he was on the verge of an emotional or phsyical breakdown, but he was definitely not well. I nudged Dr. Friendly, who had joined our party, but he declared that we did not need to intervene until (if) the guy hit the floor. I was considering getting the dude a glass of water and encouraging him to lay off the beer but his friend appeared and seemed to talk him back into some less pained state so I let it go. Five minutes later, when the bands were changing over and Biscodo and Dr. Friendly had toddled off to the bar, this guy, apparently feeling very much better, started to chat me up.... as if nothing had happened. Okay.... I can play along:

"So, what's your name?"

"Georgina"

"What?"

"Georgina" (said very clearly)

"No (laughing), really, what's your name?"

"Yeah... well that's really my name and now I'm really going to go talk to someone else" (Thanks for being near by, Matt!)

Yeesh. Dude, lay off the... whatever the hell it was you were on last night.

The Power of Polo

A couple of weeks ago, I popped into a local restaurant to pick up my pizza. I slid up to the bar to claim my pie and found myself standing over the shoulder of man who was perched on one of the stools. I caught a whiff of his cologne. He smelled like my high school boyfriend. And that was pleasant. I let my nose float me back to the age of 16. Wanting to enjoy the sensation, I intentionally didn't let my gaze fall on the man sitting near me -- his physical form would most certainly ruin the wave of nostaglia since it would be unlikely that it was a 6'2" teenage boy with shiny brown hair and a hint of freckles sitting on that stool, or even anyone close to the handsome man that boy became ... I couldn't tune out the stranger's voice entirely, however, despite trying, and I heard him say to his buddy, "No, they're not asians, they're orientals..." Poof, wistful rememberances disappeared and I grabbed my pizza and fled.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ally



On my last flight, I slogged my way to the way back of the plane and hopped over a super cute dyke to claim my window seat. As I was shuffling in, she said, "thank you."


Heh?


She pointed at the "ally" button on the bag and said, sincerely, "thank you for that."


I was surprised -- never having had anyone comment on it before. Then, I stumbled over an answer as I overthought just what it was that this button says about who I am. Saying "you're welcome" seemed so weird...as if I believed I was wearing that button as some sort of act of benevolence toward others rather than as a statement about how I believe the world should work.


I finally did mumble out something. That out of the way, I found I really wanted to ask her how it felt to be on that plane, amongst a sea of people (including my own Eddie Bauer-style self), who suddenly (to me, anyway) looked profoundly str8. I wanted to ask her if she always mentioned it when she saw ally support. I wanted to know what she really thought of the button and if she carried any of the same conflictedness I did... To me, she was the most interesting looking person around, but then the holder of the middle seat plopped down between us and all discussion stopped.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Meeting New People... Or Not.

I’ve gotten to a certain age where I’m a bit more set in my ways then is probably good for me. This means that whole groups of people are likely to be eliminated as potential friends right off the bat. You’re not very political? You smoke? You’re churchy? You hate cities? You drink cheap, yellow beer? You never went to college and, frankly, don’t see the point? You wear black socks with shorts? You love amusement parks? You would never go camping where there weren’t flush toilets available? Well, then, really, what’s the point? I know the folly of this way of thinking. I know that there are at least a few of you who would answer “yes” to some of these questions, yet we are friends. A couple of us are even close friends. You snuck through, apparently bringing with you enough other fine qualities to balance these black marks on your record or worming your way in before my thinking became so rigid. So, if you turned out to be okay, couldn’t others who presented, at least upon first glance, as not-a-chancers? Sigh. Unless I reform my evil ways, we will never know.

But you people have a role in this, too. As I sat in the bar the other night, chatting with someone who was an agreeable sort, the right (enough) age, and drinking good beer, I found myself writing this person off because of what you, my already-established, dear-to-me (yet somewhat flawed) social circle would think. Oh, not like you would tell me this person was inappropriate (see qualifying factors named above) or evil, but there was a style choice in the personal appearance of this candidate that would not have escaped notice, comment, and probably some mild ridicule. In other words, there are now too many voices in my head (mine and yours) telling me to not even bother. If I never make a new friend again, I’m blaming you, okay?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Verdict

Well, my 1/2 share from Harvest Kitchen has run out. This is a prepared food CSA where they get your share from the farm and make it into meals that you pick up once a week. I had a Tuesday vegetarian share, which was helpful for getting through the weeks of super busy-ness this fall. But I won't be renewing.

While I felt like the ingredients were good, the quality of the preparation varied (too) greatly and several of the weeks the quantity was below what I expected. Only a couple of the dishes were true stinkers, but then only a couple of the dishes were outstanding. Most were best categorized as "okay" or "eh." It was frustrating to see some clear errors -- like fried rice made with hot rice instead of chilled, so it just mushed or sushi were the rice had no stickiness and the rolls were so loose that they disintegrated when you picked them up. The spice levels needed to go up on virtually all the dishes and several others just needed to cook longer in order for the flavors to come together. Probably their strongest category was salad dressings -- the Asian one, in particular, was excellent. But dressing just can't carry them in my book.

One benefit of having tried this experiment was that it gave the kids a new perspective on my cooking. They are used to my food and have taken it for granted, but now they know: I'm actually a decent cook. Now, if I only can use that to get them to help more in the kitchen...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Lot






























A few weeks ago I joined up with a few friends to create a little experiment in urban farming. We threw some money into a hat (ok, really it was a paypal account) and bid on an empty lot in a tax foreclosure auction. Today we headed out to break ground and start planning. Most of us, like myself, won't be doing the farming ourselves, but a bit of digging and layering of ingredients for the first bed was certainly in order. So, here we are, checking things out on a gorgeous fall morning.




Leaves and a Mohawk



Hey, it is fall in Michigan. So there are leaves to be raked... and then, of course, jumped into.


Also featured in this video: the boy's new haircut, which he got just in time for his 4th grade school pictures.







video

Trick or Treat 2011



Halloween with a 9 and 12 year old and a bunch of their friends is pretty great, even if one of them had a bit of a cold.






Sunday, September 18, 2011

Teenage-itis

It has begun. The eye-rolling scoff has been around for a little while, but now it is accompanied by:

-announcements that she will have her earbuds in and be listening to her music on car rides longer than 10 minutes.

-a "S'up?" uttered in response to being introduced to new people.

-the radio in the living room being changed from NPR or CBC2 to some pop/dance music station at 95.5 that has song after song with identical rhythm tracks and callers screaming with excitement when the DJ answers their calls.

First Day


E catches a bus at 7:00am, so it is a bit dark in the mornings. Boone and I walk her to the bus stop and then continue our first morning ramble.

O leaves at the much more civilized time of 8:20am. I don't think he fully appreciates the pleasant walk we usually have -- with the sun up and all that... (and yes, Boone gets his second walk of the day with us).

The Pantry Project




I have pantry issues. As an overly-busy, somewhat experimental, very scattered, and rather impulsive cook, I have built up a pantry that is just too unwieldy for our current needs. I buy bulgar at the coop only to discover a week later that I already had bulgar, for example. I have four kinds of oatmeal on the shelves. There are more than a few outdated things in the back and, of course, there are those exotic condiments and such that snuck in somehow and are unlikely to ever be consumed by this family.

This problem is only going to get worse, I suspect, since I signed up for a prepared foods CSA for this fall. I'm going to be cooking even less often, which means I will be even more out of touch with what is going in the pantry (and the freezers, for that matter) and the turnover is likely to be even slower on the non-essential items.

So.... My goal this fall is to plan menus not from the food porn magazines that arrive at my house or the tempting recipes friends post, but based on at least one (significant) item from the pantry. And when I buy bulk items going forward (much of my shopping happens at the coop), I'm going to measure and buy just what I need for the one recipe I'm planning to make. I'll still keep a good supply of staples -- TJ's refried beans and pineapple salsa, cereal, pad thai fixins', peanut butter, chips, dried beans, and rice, and pasties and bread in freezer -- but focus will be on the things we consistently move through quickly.

As a bit of inspiration and accountability, I've included the "before" images!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Please Stop Telling Me Our Schools Suck

Apparently yet another report has come out showing that the middle and high schools here in Y-town are terrible. I think I've run through all the stages of grief about local public schools at this point, but then I find myself just feeling pissed today -- pissed that we now live in a world where we test the hell out of kids (acting as if these scores some how let us objectively rank and compare schools) so that districts like mine look like shit. And then we act like it is the school district's fault. I'm pretty sure that we know better, that we know that we don't really even need to waste all those weeks (and money) testing kids (my then 3 rd grader had 3 weeks of standardized testing last year!). All we really need to do is look at the socioeconomic profile. The darker and poorer the district, the "worse" they are (on these tests).


Okay, you and I know this and that is not my point anyway. My point is that I'm pissed that we trot these tests out and it feels like I (as a privileged parent) am supposed to look at the results and pull my not-brown and not-poor kids out...because I can. The whole message to parents is "run if you can." But run where? The subtext seems to be if I have a good student and the means, I'm mortgaging the kid's future by not pulling them. The message to parents like me seems to be: "it's okay, we know you like the idea of public schools but of course you can't endanger the future of your little snowflake..." Here you go privileged people, a signed hall pass getting you out the gym class the rest of the schmucks have to take.


I'm also pissed because a district can try with all its might to create a counter narrative (value of diversity, rich music program, community partnerships, etc.), but the scores will undercut those messages every time. And then they will excuse families that leave "because the public schools are so bad."


Suck it up, people. Public is public. We all have a stake (admittedly not to the same extent) in the schools -- whether or not we have kids, whether or not our kids go to public school. Get in the game. To that end, I'm going to lobby for the newly proposed state law mandating that parents get time off to attend their kids school meetings be expanded to allow ALL employees up to 8 hours of paid hours per month to put into the schools. It would be a start.


Hints at what is to come...

As E and I were headed out the door for an appointment early one morning this week, she stopped and looked me up and down....

"Why are you wearing a dress?"

"I'm going in to work today."

Scoff. (It is a kind of dramatic exhale...often accompanied by an eye roll.)

"I would never wear a dress to work. I probably wouldn't even wear a skirt."

"I'm not sure what you are objecting to, it is probably the easiest thing I could have put on... one piece, not even a zipper, and it is kind of like wearing pajamas to work, actually."

"Well, the colors are good, if only it was a shirt or something."

"Well you could wear leggings with it and call it a tunic..."

Scoff.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Summer Eats

Farmers' market season is here and here is what we are cooking...

E has always loved cucumbers. We got a cold soup at Zingerman's once that was lovely and we recreated it at home. I made it again last night. The other kids swirling around the house wouldn't even try it, so E and I happily ate all of it yesterday and today.

Cold Cucumber Soup

4 medium cukes, peeled and seeded
2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
1-2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh mint, chopped
salt
pepper

Whir up 3 of the cukes and buttermilk in the food processor and transfer to a large bowl. Grate the last cuke and add it along with all the other ingredients to the bowl. Stir well. Chill for a while.


Heirloom Tomato, Feta, and Mint salad

4-6 heirloom tomatoes (ideally a mixture of red, green, yellow, striped, black, etc.)
1/4 of fist-sized red onion, thinly sliced
1-2 tablespoons of fresh mint, chopped
1/2 cup of feta, crumbled
juice of 1 lemon
drizzle of olive oil
salt
pepper

I like to cut my tomatoes into wedges. You can take the bite out of the onions by tossing them in very hot water for a minute. Gently mix everything together and let it sit/marinate for 30 minutes or so.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cottage Trip 2011



The kids and I headed up to the UP for the end of July/early August. We celebrated Owen's 9th birthday with homemade apple pie and black walnut ice cream, spent a million hours on the beach and in warm Lake Michigan, saw a double rainbow, and went adventuring.




In Marquette we checked out the art fair, got turned away from Presque Isle park because an agitated young bull moose had taken up occupancy for the day, swam in Superior, and got ice cream at Jilbert's. The high point of the trip, however, was turning around to check out a sculpture garden called Lakenenland. The kids were asleep at this point, Emma rallied to take in a bit of it, but mostly, just my dad and I got to enjoy it. The park is free, whimsical, and political -- a damn fine combination, in my book. Plenty of social and political ideas inspired the art, but apparently the artist/owner of the land has had some run-ins with local authorities and for them, the artist had posted a "no trespassing" sign.





The other great adventure was a return trip to Grand Marais to climb the log slide/dune in Pictured Rocks and otherwise explore this beautiful area of beaches, dunes, rocks, and waterfalls.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Summer Beer Fest 2011

I went with my dad again and we hung mostly with Kristen and Natalie (and Willa!). Along the way I ran into a couple of colleagues and a number of other friends and acquaintances.

My notes, as always, are not terribly useful and run from “um, no” and “gack” to “eh” to “bottle that!”

I was actually disappointed in the offerings of some of the big heavies in Michigan brewing. Founders didn’t bring much new/interesting, neither did Bell’s, Dragonmead, or Arcadia. Dark Horse made an interesting play for “top dog” by having booths in every tent. Their Smells Like Weed IPA was delicious – but then it always has been, but I didn’t see anything else in their vast offerings that I needed to try. I hope they don't get to too big for their britches…

Short’s brought many beers and I was delighted to see among them Dan’s Pink Skirt Ale (bottle it!). I’d had it once at Ashley’s a few years ago and couldn’t find it anywhere after that. It was hoppy and lovely (tho too much bitter finish for Dad).

In the “decent beer from places new to me” category, I’d put the Black IPA from Kalamazoo’s Old Peninsula’s Brewpub and Black Magic RyPA from Sparta’s Michigan Beer Cellar. We also had (surprisingly) pleasant selections from Benton Harbor’s The Livery but I failed to note what they were!

I am now realizing that I had several black IPAs. This is a trend that I can get into. In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, Original Gravity from Milan also had a nice one.

And finally, what you really want to know… Worst Beer of the Evening! I declare a tie between the gluten free (I know, I know) Bees Knees Honey Ale from Old Hat Brewery in Lawton and Smokin’ Hatter Smoked IPA from New Holland. On the latter, I leave you with Natalie’s reaction: “Ick, why would you get that?” Ah, the adventure…

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Quit Fantasies

It is low-level frustrating to be a new department chair. You are stepping into a bunch of different situations that are already in process and trying to take over control...usually only to learn that what you thought was going on is either way behind or far ahead of where things actually are. That is actually okay -- frustrating, but not deadly.

The problem I am wading through now, however, falls into the category of "the important stuff" -- the stuff I don't want to fuck up, the stuff this job is really about. This problem falls under the heading of "faculty retention" and it is not going well. The faculty member has been lovely to deal with, both open and patient. The administration...well, let's just say xx xxx xxxxxxx xx xxxxxx xxx xxxxxxxxx x xxxx (edited for job security purposes), everyone is working their own agendas while still trying to look like they care, and the only one who has come up with any actual ideas has been me. Me? Yes. The brand new chair who has almost no experience upon which to draw. And everyone seems just a little too happy to tell me why my ideas can't work and not at all willing to actually suggest any of their own or figure out the right labels to apply or boxes to check to make the intent of what I suggested happen.

So yes, today, I'm having fantasies of telling them all to just go stuff it. But I'm not going to, because I'm not going to screw this faculty member. I'll get the deal to happen, even though it is fairly apparent that I have very little actual power because I don't control the right resources. And then I will no doubt trudge on to the next crisis, but there will be some trailing bitterness that will trudge on with me. It didn't have to be this way and, frankly, it was a shitty way to treat a new chair... (another edit here, recommended by a loyal Yesterday supporter).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Inside my brain...

Writing when one is supposed to be writing is often incredibly difficult. Sometimes, to be honest, I'm just running out the clock -- unable to give up on a project that is not working because "this is the time to write." Time is certainly important, but it never ensures the productivity. I may have some time, but when it comes around I often find I lack the energy or focus or (even if it sounds a bit trite) inspiration to get it done. And then I don't. And then I resent the times that are full of other things that make it impossible to write, fooling myself into thinking, "If only I didn't have to pick up the kids or sit in this meeting I would be finishing that introduction!" Yeah, right. Maybe I would, more likely, I wouldn't... It can be a very defeating cycle.

But then there are moments like those I found tonight where energy and schedule aligned completely unexpectedly and unplanned and the introduction that looked like it was going to have to sit until next week actually gets re-written. I feel a little bit like a kid just learning to ride a bike: "Wheeeeeee, I'm DOING it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Running commentary on summer reading

I can't find my copy of Straight Man -- the book I thought I should be reading as a newly minted department chair. Instead, I picked up Richard Russo's 2009 That Old Cape Magic, which is less focused on university life but does feature a pair of outrageous but outrageously realistic English professor parents of the main character (who is also an academic, but a far less insightfully drawn one). The book has been an enjoyable read, but having read a couple of his books already and having read SM a couple of times, his obsessions with Cape Cod and people falling into bushes to create cathartic moments isn't exactly fresh.

What has made this read particularly fun is the trail of bright blue post-it notes left behind by a previous reader. On the dozen or so notes scattered throughout the book, this reader expressed doubt ("an endowed chair. Hmm."), asked questions ("are we hard-wired to think we're fucking up?"), offered some criticism ("predictably irrational"), rooted for some characters over others ("I agree with Joy."), and just plain reacted ("wow," "laughed out loud"). The note-writer found Russo's portrayal of marriage overly cynical and expressed disapproval that professors would "look down on lowly teachers." Seems like someone young, perhaps?

I resisted paging ahead to find the notes once I recognized the pattern emerging, but now that I am down to the final pages (which I am reluctant to finish since I don't have another pleasure read at hand), I did peek. Sigh. No blue sticky notes commenting on the ending... Did they like it? Did they find it a worthwhile read? Why did they read it? Did they mean to leave the sticky notes on purpose?

And yes, I'm considering adding my own string of comments throughout the book -- some responding to the text, some to the blue sticky note writer. I think it'll be fun.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A little freaky...



A couple of years ago, during a particularly productive fall, I was invited to give a talk in Irvine, CA. Accepting that allowed me to tack on a day to do some quick "grab 'n go" research in San Diego, where I'd heard there was a particularly rich collection of local YWCA papers. As has become my habit, I swooped in and spent a furious 5 hours or so scanning everything that seemed remotely interesting. When I got home, the semester was heating up, my cyst flared, and things just generally fell apart for me. In other words, I did even get a chance to file what I had collected, let alone do any sort of analysis.

Fast forward two years, and I finally pulled what I had collected back out and decided to work on one of the major themes in the records: the impact of building, maintaining, and updating a downtown building on a social service/social change organization. This meshed with the work I'd been doing on the Women's Building in San Francisco, so I threw them together into a conference proposal for the Society for American City and Regional Planning History this coming fall. I'm now at work on that paper, particularly the YWCA section.

All through the collections are snippets of notes and a grant proposal for researching the Y's history produced by a particular woman. Obviously an academic of some sort, I finally decided this morning to look her up... only to find that she died just a couple of weeks ago. Her obituary ran just 3 days ago. Is that a little creepy? I've known her name for over two years, but only today did I look her up? And she just died? Hmmm... hard to shake these thoughts as I work through papers she collected and drafts she marked up for editing...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lessons from the first week

1. There are a million little "situations," none of which am I fully up to speed on. This leaves me with the impression that everything is moving really quickly and I must paddle hard to get into the current and not tip over... This is a bit frightening because this is JULY. This is the deadest month there is in the world of academe. If it is this bad now, how bad will it be in April???

2. My office is bare and institutional. I didn't do much when I was interim, but it is time to get my brain around the fact that I'll be in this office for three years. Time to get some art and a comfy chair or couch that isn't a scary dust collector.

3. Email makes this job harder. There are usually many vaguely parallel conversations going on over email and rarely are the right people connected to each other. People going off half-cocked, sending poorly-informed messages sent to people all over the campus needs to stop. I'm sure phone calls can do the same kind of damage, but it is on email that I'm seeing it.

4. There are few big decisions to be made. My life is going to be minutiae, it seems.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Little Things...

I have a splinter in the bottom of my right foot. It is annoying. I cannot, even with my relatively good flexibility, reach it as well as I need to in order to examine and remove it. It sounds really stupid, but these are the moments when I feel really alone. Nope, I'm not worrying over dying alone or anything as grand as that...I'm feeling frustrated over the lack of an adult who would be readily available at 10:45pm to take my stinky foot into hir hands and dig out a tiny (but annoying!) little splinter.

Decisions, decisions

As I move along in my career, the decisions seem to get weightier and weightier. This is no great surprise, I know, but as I take on new administrative roles, I'm trying to get more intentional in my process -- especially since the decisions I'm making now can have a pretty direct and dramatic impact on people's careers (and not just my own).

The one that is weighing on my mind today (and kept working its way into my dreams last night) involves an important hire. The path is not clear to me and seems even less clear to my committee. Even though I thought I had sorted out an answer/direction, I have to work within the structure of a committee. Thankfully, they are fairly malleable when given clear, um, "suggestions." Apparently, much of what my job is as chair is to make decisions and then run them by the committee for "input." What I have come to realize through working with this committee in particular is that too many open-ended questions allows for crazy answers to emerge. It is actually a lot like parenting, give them (committee, kids) choice, but not endless choices.

"Would you like a peanut butter sandwich or egg salad in your lunch?"

Having figured this out is good, but implementing it consistently is still a challenge. Yesterday, for example, we went straight from the last interview into a discussion of the candidates (scheduling a separate meeting was not workable). This meant I did not have time to strategize on my own and figure out a couple of options to offer them to structure the discussion. And the results of said meeting ranged from unclear to downright distracting/unworkable. Two people kept looping back to a solution that has absolutely been taken off the table by the provost -- she won't do it, but they won't give it up!

In moments like these I'm surprised at the me that emerges. Transparency be damned, I'm maneuvering for an interim solution so that we can leave the table and I can do the real work of figuring out the next step. Then I can come back to them with an appropriate version of peanut butter vs. egg salad for them vote on. Yesterday's temporary solution came from the classic, "why don't you let me write up this and that from our discussion and take it to the provost for her input?" And the sheep said, "bah" (yes). I did send them the write up so they could suggest revisions. They didn't, of course. So off I go to "the smoke-filled back room" to plot and plan with those in power after spending several hours plotting and planning on my own. I feel both a sense of accomplishment and a sense of revulsion.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Momentum

So, quite unintentionally, I've been reading two books back-to-back that both deal with the angst of women who married, had two kids, and found themselves in lives that were not what they thought they would be.

I started with Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, but put it aside for a while and read Stephanie Staal's Reading Women. Now I'm back to finishing up RR. They are very different books: one fiction, one a memoir; one published in 1961, one in 2011. The struggles of the women, however, are strikingly similar to each other and to feelings I recognize in myself. Most of it is a sense of loss of personal identity and one that the men connected to the women do not experience. One would hope that Reading Women, especially with the (overly) ambitious subtitle of "how the great books of feminism changed my life," would have some pithy solutions -- or even observations -- but it really doesn't. The message of both books seems to be "it is complicated, there is no right answer, and since you won't really figure it out, the best you can do is to muddle through and try not to be so hard on yourself" (especially in April's case) I suspect there is also supposed to be some message about the role of society in all this, but it is present but surprisingly not active in the stories.

I don't, of course, really need anyone to tell me that life as a 30-something mother is tough. What I have been thinking about is the role of momentum in shaping this experience. Motherhood interrupts the momentum one has developed as an adult and creates its own forces that, once rolling, are hard to check.

Last week, I was trying to explain to a friend that I was thinking it was time to get more engaged with my career. As someone who has recently left corporate world to seek greater validation in other parts of her life, she stared at me with a certain disbelief? surprise? disdain? I think what she heard me saying was that I was going to work more, which is most decidedly not my goal. I just want to use my time differently. I feel like I spend and enormous amount of energy trying to restart work that I have let grow cold, especially research. Deadlines and trips that provide research opportunities force me to frantically try to pull my shit together and while that frenzy results in a decent (though not outstanding) quality and quantity of 'deliverables' I have found myself thinking that if I could just keep plodding along and stay engaged, it would be so much easier and rewarding. To do this, I will have to counter the frantic-ness of academic life during crunch times at the beginning and end of every term and bring some more discipline into my summer work.

From there, it occurred to me that there are some other big and important areas of my life that need a similar treatment. They need better shape and structure. They need to be moving forward and that movement needs to be established well enough that the inevitable forces that crop up and get in the way can't derail the whole project.

How intimates fight...

Something about this passage rang (a little too) true for me:

"Then the fight went out of control. It quivered their arms and legs and wrenched their faces into shapes of hatred, it urged them harder and deeper into each other's weakest points, showing them cunning ways around each other's strongholds and quick chances to switch tactics, feint, and strike again. In the space of a gasp for breath it sent their memories racing back over the years for old weapons to rip the scabs off old wounds; it went on and on."
-Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

No, thanks.

Today's email contained this gem: an invitation to give a 45-minute lecture on "women's issues" in the "history and development" of North America. For free. Um, yeah, don't think I'll be accepting that one. How would one even begin to organize a meaningful talk on that subject to be presented in that short a time? And for no compensation, why would one even try?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Impressed

As I write today, I'm listening to a symphony that Beethoven composed after he had gone completely deaf. And it is pretty amazing -- even without the deafness factored in there.

Since I am writing (revising) this week, it got me to thinking: Could I write this article without being able to read what I had written? Could I do it without looking at any notes? I'd be relying only on the pieces/details I had managed to store in my memory...relying on only impressions of how well I had explained this or that point... Yeesh.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Exhaling

April was blur of work and logistical struggles. It feels like everything came to a screeching halt over the weekend, especially yesterday. On Friday, I turned in final grades. On Sunday, I helped with the Bike Ypsi Spring Ride and Festival (for which I ended up doing waaaay more leg work than intended at such a busy time in my work life) and then rushed off to graduation.

There is certainly relief at having classes be finished for the year but my schedule is not really easing up as I look forward into June. The next 4-6 weeks will remain full of work between library director interviews, interviews for the student group I direct, and preparation for the Berks conference. But now highest on the priority list, especially for the next two weeks, will be the girl watching article. My goal? Send off the revised manuscript by May 17 (when the first of the library director candidates should be arriving). Yikes! Better get to it...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Unexpected.

Tonight I went to the banquet for an award that I did not win. I knew that I had been nominated and that someone else had won and that's fine, the individual who won is wonderful. It is an important night on my campus for many reasons and I was happy to go. I scored some earrings in the silent auction and had a pleasant dinner with some colleagues. I was also delighted to be there to honor a former student (and now a representative in the state House) who had won the other major award of the evening for her work in the community. This wonderful student, someone I have written about before, could not actually be there to accept as she is with a bipartisan commission of state legislators visiting Turkey at the moment. Instead, she taped her acceptance speech, which she opened by thanking the key professors, administrators, students, and fellow legislators who had helped her in all she has achieved. From there, she gracefully moved into discussing the guiding principles of her work as an advocate for women, for workers, etc., etc.... and then she thanked me. She thanked me big time -- singled me out from all the amazing people she had met as a student at our institution -- and credited me with challenging her, inspiring her, and introducing her to her role model for creating change: Ella Baker. I am so stinkin' proud of this woman and that she would share some of her accomplishments with me...in this setting...on this night. Well, I'm damn near overwhelmed. And yes, it kind of feels like I won the award after all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Rite of OBOS

Last night one of the co-founders of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective visited campus and I went to hear her presentation. On my way in, I bought the most recent copy of Our Bodies, Our Selves (I already own three other editions, including two from the 1970s). Judy Norsigian's talk romped through a host of women's health issues -- troubling practices that persist despite ample research to the contrary, the power of drug companies, global issues, cultural issues... It was a powerful testament to the continuing need for advocacy work around women's health -- the impetus for the creation of the Boston Women's Health Collective in the first place.

After the talk, I asked Norsigian to sign the book for E. When E found the book on her bed tonight, she was initially deeply skeptical based on its pink cover (as was I, I must admit). Then I told her the story of how this book came to be and how it has been updated, translated, and disseminated around the world. She got much more interested. I told her that this book was political, that it represented important advocacy work that had drastically changed women's relationship to the health system in this country and was continuing to do that even today. She thanked me for the book -- and really seemed to mean it. I told her that her grandmother had given me an earlier copy of the book many years ago, but this one was hers...and I showed her the inscription. "She signed this for me?" she said excitedly. She loved it.

Then I told her that some of the book would probably not be of much interest to her right now -- like the section on menopause. At the mention of menopause, she told me to leave but I kept going and told her there were other sections that would be much more relevant... just then I leafed past the "teens and birth control" section, which I mentioned might be of more interest. She did not tell me to leave then, but I left anyway. I had said what I wanted to say. And when I peeked in later, she was contentedly curled up on her bed with her dog, reading away.

Really? But... but... but...

A casual conversation with a senior colleague in the hall a week and a half ago has got me turned inside out. He is a relatively new full professor (which means he has not yet gone into hibernation like our older fulls) and he asked when I would be coming up for promotion. I told him that I was thinking about asking to go forward next year (which would mean, after the year+ process, I might be promoted in Sept. 2013). He asked about my current projects and suggested a somewhat different strategy than I have been pursuing -- including starting the process to come up for full in a few weeks, when the senior members of the department will meet to vote on such things.

I was very resistant, feeling that it would all be a bit safer in another year, once I had a book contract firmly in hand -- especially since there is no time pressure for this promotion, unlike coming up for tenure. He made the argument that I could do it now and be making full professor money with full professor privileges for doing the same work I'm doing now. Hmmm...

So, on top of other angst in my life, I threw "what to do with my career" into the mix. I actually pulled out my c.v. on Thursday and spent a long time tweaking the white space and thinking about the work represented there. Then I annotated it, printed it off, and stuck it in the box of my colleague. I challenged him to give me an honest assessment of what I look like on paper. After all, if people like him aren't eager to push my case forward, there is no case. I cannot be my own advocate.

Well, he thought it/I looked solid as is and would be "outstanding" if the "revise and resubmit" I already have from American Quarterly turned into an acceptance, something that could theoretically happen between now and the middle of summer when my materials would be sent out to external reviewers. So now he is taking my c.v. to my other senior colleagues in the discipline. But he is a persuasive guy with five times as much energy as any of the others. I can't really kid myself, if he tells them he wants to put me forward, the others will most likely say yes.

It is just now sinking in for me that the email I sent tonight, giving him the okay to put my c.v. in front of the others, is pretty much equivalent to me doing the formal ask to go forward... In other words, I think I just asked to be promoted -- after having not really thought much about it (or a particular time frame for it) until just this past fall. I've just been plugging away at this and that (which somehow added up to 16 conference presentations since 2004!), publishing things when the right venue appeared, and continuing to work in a very unsystematic way on a sprawling second book. Could that really lead to a promotion? Considering the agony of tenure/assistant professor promotion it is really hard to believe...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why aren't there alternatives to skipping?

So... maybe the girl could skip ANOTHER grade. I'm stewing about this today. In her typical, unflappable way, her response is "cool, when do I take their tests?" My response is much more complicated (witness my last post). Today, however, I'm finding myself pissed -- pissed at a system that is so inflexible, that fetishizes grade levels, that is so lacking in creativity. (I am not alone in this, just read this post/comment thread from Edutopia.)

When I contacted a teacher about curriculum in her classes and where my daughter and kids like her (those who are highly motivated in this subject), she accused me of advocating tracking. I'm having a hard time not seeing that as a direct attempt to shut me down. The challenge is, and this is what I've been asking for all along, is how to provide just some -- one or two -- opportunities for my kids to work with a motivated peer group and have the full attention of a teacher, while staying in the 'regular' school. E likes band and art. She has a pretty diverse group of friends. She is at ease in this school. I do value these things but there is no getting around the fact that she is bored and stuck in classrooms that just lump kids together without any regard to ability, motivation, or experience. In these situations, my kid gets A's because she manages to turn in all her work and is quiet. And she knows this. She wants those A's to mean more.

When I was in 5-7th grades, we lived in Virginia in a huge school district that had a much wider range of students than the sheltered world of Midland public schools from which I had come. I was identified as "Gifted and Talented" somehow and experienced three different programs during my time there. One year, there were a handful of days where we were taken out of regular classes to attend a district-wide day of activities. This was lame because I knew no one (I was in elementary school and didn't even know the other kids from my school) and it wasn't a sustained program, just a series of one-offs. The next year, there was a short time in the afternoon once every other week where we were pulled out of class to go work on projects with other kids from around the (large) school. I learned about flow-charts and rudimentary computer programming, we built electrical circuits, and stuff that was cool, but again, there was not rapport with the other students or the revolving adults who lead the projects.

The third model, however, had a significant impact on me. In 7th grade at a gigantic, overflowing school, I spent 4th period in a "special" class with less than 20 other kids. I can still recite poetry I learned in that class. I designed and adminstered my first survey. I learned the mathmatical explanation for "magic" tricks... Projects aside, it was neat, it was special, and I got to know a diverse range of students who made me a better student because they were better students -- and that compensated for the shortcomings of my other classes. There were four teachers for the class, so each quarter we had someone new who was excited to be there because they got to try out kooky projects or teach about their passions to a small, motivated group. I certainly hope it was as rewarding for them as it was for me.

Okay, that was many years, er, decades, ago, but surely there must be some models out there for creating that kind of experience for kids -- even if it is just for 50 minutes a day. And I don't just mean the kids who test well. Why can't we borrow a page from the "free schooling" movement and get kids to pick something that interests them and then get them a peer group and teacher that will encourage them in this?

I tried some of these ideas out on the principal of the middle school and got nowhere (E calls her "weak-minded") so now I'm laying this challenge in front of the school board and the district adminstration today. We'll see. In the meantime, I still need to figure out if I should cut my losses with this school and jump through the hoops to move E straight to 9th grade (at the ripe old age of 12 1/2)...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Educational Ranting

I'm feeling pretty stewy these days when it comes to K-12 education. Our local school district is a mess and I'm close enough to it -- knowing a couple of board members, being on a school committee, attending as many PTO meetings as I can stomach, and watching my kids go through it -- that there is something every week that sends me into a fit. On the state level the funding system that was supposed to equalizes districts (but has not) and more threatened cuts makes the picture for the majority of school districts in the state pretty bleak.

I'm a pretty firm believer in public education and I put my kids where my mouth is. The problem is, as I said, the current crunch that can only get worse before it gets better is going to fuck things up for my kids. While the system is dissolving into crisis (where something like 60% of the districts in the state are in serious debt), my kids are in 3rd and 7th grade. Even if we fix the funding system and rework districts, pedagogies, and institutions within 5 years, we've screwed the kids who are currently in the system. Consequently, I think it is totally acceptable to run up huge amounts of debt to improve things in the short term while we work on those longer term solutions. The governor does not agree. He (a multi-millionaire) is taking a $1 annual salary from the state, which he seems to think justifies a budget that reduces K-12 funding approximately $800/student. That's his idea of sharing the burdens of our poor economy. I have my anger as a 'community member' pretty well sorted out, even if I have not yet found the right channel into which I can direct that anger.

My other role, however, is as 'parent' and that has me rolling around with much less direction. Our school system needs to do more to hang on to the bright kids. I am deeply concerned about what happens to the culture of the school when the motivated kids with motivated parents pull out because the short term prognosis is so grim. But, having just received more reports about E's stunningly good scores on the big standardized tests and looked at the unimaginative curriculum and overstuffed classrooms of her school, I have to wonder if I'm sacrificing her opportunities in the interest of my larger political beliefs. This is somewhat more pressing with this kid because she is rather Lisa Simpson-like. She likes to excel within the structure of school. She figures out exactly what she needs to do (no more) and does it and then basks in the good grades. Getting her to do extra "just to learn" or "for her own good" doesn't hold much appeal for her. She'd rather read fantasy novels.

So...tomorrow I'm meeting with her principal and the academic counselor at her middle school to hear what they have to say about all this. I'm going to ask them to give us -- and the others like us -- a reason to stay. Frankly, I'm not expecting much. The elementary schools are pretty good, but once kids hit puberty, the schools become obsessed with behavior (which is often times what is being graded) and all energy seems to shift to those who are academically or behaviorally at the bottom. When it comes to kids 12 and over, the district has been in a race to the bottom.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Digital Me

Logging on to the social networks has been rather strange of late. For the last two weeks, I've been following the news of national and state politics through FB links provided by friends. I appreciate seeing the depressing reports of attacks on women and unions framed by the wise words of my lefty friends. It has made it a bit easier to take by reminding me that while the world "out there" is scary, I am not alone in my disgust and outrage. The odd bit about having spent so much time on FB recently is that interspersed with posts on the violence in Libya, attempts to slash funding for Planned Parenthood, and drastic cuts to the state's already pitiful education budget are updates on the inane bits my and my friends' lives. The absurdity of this has actually been comforting and I've appreciated FB more in these weeks than perhaps ever before.

The 'magic moment' is probably coming to an end, however. I've had a good run with FB, but now more and more of my extended family are finding me there. I've also had close encounters will students who know people I know. I'd prefer to keep FB confined to people with whom I have to censor little in my life, but unless I go more deeply underground (a la Dickish McBastard), this can't last and the idea of managing everyone with lists and settings that seem to get changed periodically by the powers that be at FB holds no interest for me. Ah well, for now cousins will just have to languish unacknowledged in my "friend request" folder while I milk this for a bit longer. I'm just not ready to give it up.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Looking forward to the day when...

I'm looking forward to the day when the most notable aspect -- and most consistent identifying feature -- of a candidate for an academic job in any field outside of Women's Studies will not be her gender. Referring to a candidate as "the female" while using actual names of the male candidates is not acceptable. Assuming that a female candidate should go to lunch with the women in the department merely because they share a gender is insulting to all of us involved. Watching the good old boys pat themselves on the back for offering a job to a woman when they had men in the pool is nauseating. Pointing out to them that this is unacceptable and having them respond, "but we like redheads!" is... well, you see where I'm headed.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Cool as a cucumber, E set off to take the ACT this morning. I don't remember freaking out about these big standardized tests, but I do remember feeling like I should manifest some serious anxiety and that was a form of anxiety in and of itself. Apparently my demons have not been transmitted to the girl. Her attitude? "Eh, I've done these before." Such an awesome kid.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Losing (some of) the Noise

My experiment this term is "no-email Thursdays." I'm not telling my colleagues (yet) and I'm only cutting myself off from work email. Of the four Thursdays I've encountered so far, I managed to stay true for three of them. The week before last, I forgot. Habit kicked in and I checked and somewhere in the back and forth of History scheduling minutiae with a colleague it clicked...this was exactly the kind of time suck I was trying to avoid. The other three Thursdays were beautiful, productive things and no one died when I did not answer or initiate email for one day.

Here is what I've learned:

1. a day in the middle of the week is probably the BEST day to stay off email. Most of my colleagues teach on Thursdays and are therefore quite busy. They seem to assume that if I don't answer it is because I am similarly busy (I think) -- only I don't teach on Thursday (delicious, delicious Thursdays!). Friday or Monday we have the (fiction of the) weekend and people are twitchy about getting answers before people "go away" for the weekend (altho many don't go away...see point number 3 below). I can always mop up whatever crisis has exploded on Friday morning and not leave anyone hanging as we head into the weekend.

2. I have to prepare. I have to go into my email on Wed night and pull out whatever I need for the work I have planned for Thursday. This means I have a chance to answer late-in-the-day emails and I HAVE to plan my Thursday. Guilt and control freak tendencies go down and productivity goes up.

3. I want more. I want no email weekends. What I am learning, however is that my colleagues have pretty much lost all sense of boundaries. One of them sent an email asking for a discipline vote on something at 8pm on Friday and then was back on line early Saturday afternoon complaining that only one person had weighed in. (I saw all of these on Saturday evening but was so annoyed by it I waited to answer until Sunday night -- should have waited 'til Monday!))
This job is already severely lacking in boundaries as anyone who has ever gone anywhere with me and knows that I carry a book (or three) with me pretty much constantly knows. Why can't we have weekends? I'm not going to pretend that I don't work on weekends. I do. But at least let me stick to doing the reading and grading that is necessary and keep the piddly requests and political crap for a weekday? And then there are the students... I'm thinking email allows us just way too much access to each other and that we all need to retreat to our separate corners. Email, for example, allowed me to learn that a student in my methods class only today found the instructions for the paper that is due tomorrow. Really, do I need to know that my students take my assignments so seriously that they only start them the night before? No, I don't. I'm sure they do this. I'm just sayin' that I don't want to know!

Anyway, the upshot is that no-email Thursdays are pretty damn awesome and I intend to keep them up and look for ways to further limit the noise and improve my focus.